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Survey: Most pastors see their family relationships as healthy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Pastors see their own families as fairly healthy, though they believe their job means they don’t spend enough time with their families and there are unreasonable expectations connected with being the spouse or child of a minister, according to a new study conducted for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The study, which utilized a representative national sample of 870 senior pastors, showed eight out of 10 pastors are currently on their first marriage, while another 12 percent are divorced and remarried. Ninety-three percent have children, including 43 percent who have adolescents and 50 percent who have only children 18 or older.

Fourteen percent are carrying on a family tradition -– being the child of a minister.

Conducted by Ellison Research of Phoenix and published in the July/August issue of LifeWay’s Facts & Trends magazine, the survey revealed that 93 percent of all pastors believe there is extra pressure being married to a minister (including 54 percent who strongly believe this); 91 percent feel there is extra pressure being the child of a minister (including 46 percent who strongly hold this belief); and 88 percent believe churchgoers often expect pastors’ families to be “better than” other people’s families. In all three cases, Southern Baptist ministers are particularly likely to perceive extra pressure on their families.

Six out of 10 ministers say their role as a pastor leaves them with insufficient time for their families. Only 18 percent say the amount of time they get to spend with their spouse is at extremely healthy levels while 10 percent said the same about the amount of time they get to spend with their children.

Even so, when asked to rate the health of their relationship with their spouse on a scale of 1 to 5, 47 percent of pastors give it the highest possible rating (a 5), while another 39 percent rate it at a 4. Similarly, 44 percent of ministers rate the health of their relationship with their children at a 5, and another 42 rate it at a 4. Overall, 26 percent of pastors rate the health of their family unit at a 5 and another 54 percent give it a 4 rating. Ministers who have been divorced report a less healthy relationship with their children and the health of their family unit lower than do other pastors.

Although pastors see the health of their own families in a positive light, they often perceive problems with families of other clergy members. Just 3 percent say pastors’ families in general in their denomination are extremely healthy, while another 26 percent rate it as a 4.

In fact, the average minister says 23 percent of the other Protestant ministers they know are having significant problems with their spouse or marriage and 27 percent are having significant problems with their children.

With all of the extra pressure on pastors’ families and the limitations on the time pastors get to spend with their families, 61 percent of ministers believe strongly that if there were a crisis in their family, they would receive the necessary support from their church. Another 33 percent feel only somewhat confident they would get the support they need, while 6 percent felt no confidence their church would support them in a family crisis.

Among other findings in the survey:

— Only 3 percent of senior pastors have never been married. Among the 14 percent who have been divorced, 12 percent have since remarried, while 2 percent remain unmarried. Three percent have been widowed, with 2 percent having remarried and 1 percent remaining unmarried.

— Almost nine out of 10 evangelical ministers are on their first marriage (88 percent), with 3 percent widowed, 8 percent divorced and only 1 percent never married. There is more diversity — and much more divorce — among mainline Protestant ministers, as 69 percent are on their first marriage, 7 percent have never been married, 1 percent have been widowed and 23 percent have gone through a divorce. (The study was conducted among clergy who are currently senior pastors, so these figures would not include those who left the ministry after a divorce or the death of a spouse.)

— Just 8 percent of ministers have no children at all. Half have grown children but no adolescents, 22 percent have children under age 18 but not yet any grown children and 20 percent have a mixture of adolescents and grown children.

— Following a parent into the ministry is equally common among evangelical and mainline pastors.

— Evangelical ministers are more likely than mainline ministers to describe their relationship with their spouse as extremely healthy (49 percent to 37 percent). Also, pastors who have no children under age 18 are particularly likely to report a healthy spousal relationship (53 percent call it extremely healthy, compared to 35 percent among those with adolescents in the household).

— Evangelicals also are more likely than mainline ministers to rate their relationships with their children as extremely healthy (46 percent to 36 percent).

— Evangelicals feel more positively about the amount of time they get to spend with their families than mainline ministers. And pastors with children in the household have much more serious complaints about not spending enough time with their spouse.

— Southern Baptists and Pentecostals particularly feel that “Churchgoers often expect pastors’ families to be ‘better than’ other people’s families.”

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, commented that it would be unwise to figure the small proportion of pastors reporting very unhealthy family situations means all is well among the clergy.

“Even though only 5 percent of pastors report a very unhealthy relationship with their spouse, that means there are over 10,000 individual pastors with serious marital problems right now,” Sellers commented. “In fact, the study projects that around 20,000 senior pastors nationwide — to say nothing of associate ministers or other staff in Protestant churches, nor of those who have left the ministry because of these issues — recognize that they have serious family problems right now.”

The sample of 870 Protestant ministers, which included only those who are actively leading churches, is accurate to within plus or minus 3.2 percentage points, according to Ellison Research. The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations. Ellison said the respondents’ geography, church size and denomination were tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

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